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Tower Lane Properties v. City of Los Angeles: JMBM Prevails in Published Court of Appeal Opinion Holding that a City's Erroneous Interpretation of an Ordinance At Odds with its Historical Practice is Entitled to No Deference

March 3, 2014

By Matthew Hinks

JMBM has prevailed in the Court of Appeal on behalf of its client in a well-publicized and hotly-contested development project in the City of Los Angeles. The court's published opinion will come as welcome relief to property owners who got caught in the bureaucratic mire when the City chose to "re-interpret" a half-a-century-year-old ordinance dealing with subdivision proposals to apply to all large hillside lots. However, the lasting impact of the decision will be what the court had to say about the deference a municipal authority is entitled to in connection with the interpretation of city ordinances and regulations.

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Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Saudi Prince in Benedict Canyon Case

March 3, 2014


Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Saudi Prince in Benedict Canyon Case
Rejects arguments that ordinance requires environmental review

In the much publicized case of a Saudi Prince seeking to build his residential estate, a unanimous three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal published a decision in which it affirmed a lower court judgment and ruled in favor of the Prince and against the City of Los Angeles, Bruce Karsh and Martha Karsh. In Tower Lane Properties v. City of Los Angeles, Bruce Karsh, Martha Karsh, the appellate court rejected the City and Karsh arguments that the residential project must first file a tentative tract map and undergo environmental and discretionary review before issuance of a building permit.

In reaching its conclusion, the court considered the plain meaning of the subject ordinance (Los Angeles Municipal Code 91.7006.8.2) as well as the City's historical interpretation and application. The court found that the prior owner of the Prince's property has been granted grading permits in 2005 and 2006, and that "...the Karshes obtained grading permits for nine projects on their large hillside property, all without undergoing any environmental review under the Ordinance." The court concluded: "Thus, out of 22 grading permits for properties having hillside grading sites larger than 60,000 square feet, only one required any type of clearance, which was obtained without undergoing any environmental review."

The court rejected the City's efforts to interpret the Ordinance in such a manner as to require the Saudi Prince to undergo environmental review, concluding: "Because the City cannot point to a consistent and long-standing interpretation, its current interpretation is entitled to no deference."

Tower Lane's land use attorney, Benjamin M. Reznik of Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP in Los Angeles, stated that his client, who has been the target of allegedly unfair and at times vicious attacks by local residents and the media, feels completely vindicated by the court ruling. "The City continues to single out the Saudi Prince with new requirements never before applied to other property owners all in an effort to deny him the right to a building permit. This unfair treatment has to stop," said Reznik.

Tower Lane Properties is an entity established by Saudi Prince Abdulazziz ibn Abdulazziz al Saud, who is currently the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, to develop his family residence in the hills above Benedict Canyon. Next door neighbors Bruce and Martha Karsh have been leading and funding efforts to stop the Saudi Prince.

Saudi Prince Files a $25 Million Lawsuit Against the City of Los Angeles for Illegally Blocking Construction of His Family Residential Estate in Benedict Canyon

February 8, 2013


On February 5, 2013, Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell (JMBM) filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court (Case # BS141623) against the City of Los Angeles on behalf of Tower Lane Properties LLP whose beneficial owner is Saudi prince Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdul-Aziz al Saud, the current Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit seeks a writ of mandate to compel the city to issue the building permits and damages in the amount of $25 million caused by the city's allegedly illegal and discriminatory conduct.

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Los Angeles Superior Court Rules Saudi Prince's Benedict Canyon Project Was Illegally Subjected to L.A. Building Code Provisions

August 25, 2012

News Release


LOS ANGELES -- On August 23, 2012, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the residential project proposed in the Benedict Canyon area by Saudi prince Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdul-Aziz al Saud, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, had been illegally subjected by the City of Los Angeles to rules that are not applicable to the project. [Tower Lane Properties, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Superior Court case no. BS137339.]

The rule at issue is City Building Code sec. 91.7006.8.2 which requires projects that are subject to subdivision to apply for a tentative tract map prior to grading on sites greater than 60,000 square feet. The city and certain neighbors argued that this provision is applicable to the Saudi prince's project even though no subdivision was proposed or contemplated. Hence, they argued the project requires a discretionary review and public hearings.

The court found that the code section is not applicable to the project and ordered the city not to apply this provision to the project. The proposed project consists of three single family homes on three separate legal lots on Tower Lane.

Martha and Bruce Karsh, who own a large estate property next door, elected to intervene in the lawsuit. The Karsh's legal arguments regarding the applicability of this code section were also rejected by the court. In papers filed with the court, Tower Lane Properties submitted evidence of city records showing that Martha and Bruce Karsh had pulled numerous grading and building permits for their own property between 2003 to 2010 in order to construct a recreational building, a guest house, a conservatory with basement, and other improvements, and not once did the City subject them to the very same ordinance they argued Tower Lane Properties must adhere to, even though their property is also greater than 60,000 square feet. Tower Lane Properties produced evidence that the city had never before applied this ordinance to an applicant proposing a single family home on a single legal lot.

Martha and Bruce Karsh have been leading opponents of the project who have waged a campaign-style attack against the project and Prince Abdul-Aziz. The City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission website shows that Martha and Bruce Karsh had also hired a team of lobbyists to influence the city processing of this project. Bruce Karsh is one of the co-founders of Oaktree Capital, an international investment and management firm and, according to the Los Angeles Times, the largest creditor of Tribune Co. which owns the Los Angeles Times.

"Our client designed a project to comply with all the zoning and building code regulations, but in response to outside pressures the city devised new interpretations intended to force our client into a lengthy and unnecessary analysis of non-existent issues. This is a residential project which is completely consistent with neighboring properties and will be constructed in compliance with building and grading regulations. Yesterday's detailed and well- reasoned court ruling vindicates our client's position that the City tried to apply its rules in a discriminatory manner," said Benjamin M. Reznik, land use attorney for the Saudi prince. "It is most unfortunate that our client has been vilified by certain members of the community for doing nothing more than insisting that the laws of our city be applied to him fairly in the same manner as they are applied to other homeowners."

Click here to review the court's tentative decision, which became final after the hearing of August 23, 2012.

Contact
Benjamin M. Reznik
Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP
1900 Avenue of the Stars, Los Angeles CA 90067
BMR@jmbm.com
310.201.3572

City of LA Adopts Job Killer Policy

January 20, 2012

Ben Reznik

In an attempt to appease a well-heeled group of neighbors in Benedict Canyon who want to stop one particular project, the City of Los Angeles has adopted a new interpretation of its municipal code which will result in more than $1 billion worth of construction being delayed into 2013. This equates to the loss of several thousand jobs this year.

For the particulars, read my op-ed column from this week's Los Angeles Business Journal, reprinted with permission below.

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Why is L.A. determined to treat the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia unfairly?

November 9, 2011

Ben Reznik

Why is the City of Los Angeles singling out the Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia and forcing him to follow procedures never before imposed on others in order to allow him to build his home in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles?

That's a question being raised following the recent Vanity Fair article written by Michael Shnayerson, There Goes the Neighborhood, about my client Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the current Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia.

For some inexplicable reason, the City of Los Angeles Planning Department is erroneously maintaining and insisting that the Prince's entity developing the project, Tower Lane Properties, Inc., must undergo additional, unnecessary and inapplicable steps in the plan check review process, before the project is cleared for construction. However, other similarly-sized residential projects in Benedict Canyon and nearby neighborhoods were built without being subjected to any such additional review whatsoever. A 35,046 square-foot home on North Carolwood Drive, a 45,891 square-foot home on Bel Air Road, and a 52,503 square-foot home on S. Mapleton Drive, to name a few, were all built without the City of Los Angeles subjecting them to this procedure. It's not even the largest residential project in the area. [SOURCE: City of Los Angeles Department of City Planning, Los Angeles County Assessor's Office]

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Vanity Fair visits Benedict Canyon and exposes the real motivation of opponents to home of Saudi Prince

November 3, 2011

Ben Reznik

Vanity Fair reporter Michael Shnayerson recently visited the Los Angeles hillside neighborhood of Benedict Canyon to report on a proposed residential project by JMBM client Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Deputy Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia. Shnayerson's article, There Goes the Neighborhood, includes interviews with some of the property's high profile neighbors and sheds light on what is really driving the opposition.

Tower Lane Properties, Inc., the prince's entity seeking to build the project, has reached out to the surrounding community, heard the community's issues and concerns, and has come forward with new, revised plans that reduce the project's size and significantly reduce project-related truck traffic. Tower Lane Properties, Inc. is committed to maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue with area neighbors to ensure that this residential development on private property can move forward.

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